Notes from the Back Row 

Outer space, inner limits

Another alien hits the silver screen this week but at least this one, named Paul , has the decency to be rated R.

Directed by Greg Mottola ( Superbad, Adventureland) Paul is a funny little bug-eyed extra-terrestrial who escapes from 60 years of government lockdown and ends up hitching a ride in a motorhome with two English comic book geeks (Simon Pegg and Nick Frost of Sean of the Dead fame) and a fundamentalist Christian trailer park supervisor (Kristen Wiig, stealing the show).

Trying to keep Paul  (voiced by Seth Rogen) on the down low while evading government baddies (Jason Bateman, Bill Hader, Joe Lo Trugilo) the slacker-hero-geek squad bumble through a series of mishaps, followed by chase scenes that climaxes in the ultimate Sigourney Weaver cameo.

Paul is full of anal probe jokes, bromance tender moments and enough laughs to keep things chugging for 103 minutes, but considering the talent involved it's only  good where it could have been great. The main problem is that Paul panders to its target market of film buffs and sci-fi geeks so much that witty references and in-jokes threaten to overwhelm things like story, dialogue and creative vision. Sure, it's funny, a geek wish-fulfillment flick that melds ET and Road Trip , but Paul never quite makes it to the comedic outer limits.

The inner limits of human potential, however, get reached, breached and broken in Limitless , the latest suspense thriller from Neil Burger ( The Illusionist). Bradley Cooper stars as Eddie, a bum writer who takes a little tab of some new drug and gains access to that other 80 percent of his mental potential, the part of the brain we supposedly never use. It's like Viagra for the brain and with it Eddie finishes his book in four days then inexplicably turns $12 grand into $10 million via the stock market - and somehow gets mixed up with some (stock) shady characters including the Russian mob and Robert De Niro (taking an acting paycheck.)

Everything is fine as wine until the drugs run out - apparently the highest highs spawn the lowest lows and soon Eddie is living a paranoid nightmare existence while his girlfriend (Abbie Cornish) remains less than impressed.

Limitless is shot in true drug-tripping glory with dazzling colours and flashy camera work throughout, yet problems lie in a few plot holes (he's too smart to be acting that stupid) and Neil Burger's refusal to slide some deeper thematic meaning into things - he misses ample opportunities to comment on addiction, narcissism and better living through chemistry. Still though, as a tense thrill ride with a really high guy, Limitless is pretty fun.

The Lincoln Lawyer also opens this week at the Village 8 and stars Matthew McConaughey as a street-savvy criminal defense lawyer who works from the back seat of his Lincoln. He gets tangled up in some bad shit when he takes the case of a Beverly Hills playboy (Ryan Phillipe) accused of rape and attempted murder. It's a street-meets-glamour story and of course nothing is as it seems, but director Brad Furman (The Take) goes light on the grit and heavy on the overly simple moral drum-banging. The all-star cast includes Bryan Cranston, William H. Macy, John Leguizamo and Marisa Tomei, playing a single mom who ain't afraid to show a little skin. Good thing too because the plot fizzles the further into the movie you get.

Speaking of Fizzle, lets hope the cloud of radiation drifting over the Pacific dissipates before it reaches our quiet mountain town. But in case it doesn't the download/dvd of the week is Blood of Heroes , proof that a post-nuclear society can be all fun and games.



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